Delhi University professor Nandini Sundar is among six people who have been booked for the murder of a tribal person, Samnath Baghel, in the Maoist-affected Sukma district of Chhattisgarh.
The Chhatisgarh police has also accused JNU professor Archana Prasad, Vineet Tiwari (an activist belonging to Delhi's Joshi Adhikar Sansthan) and CPI (M) state secretary Sanjay Parate for the murder, along with Manju Kawasi and Mangal Ram Karma.
"An FIR was lodged against Nandini Sundar and five others under sections 120 B (criminal conspiracy), 302 (murder), 147, 148, 149 (punishment for rioting, unlawful assembly) 452 (House-trespassing after preparation for hurt, assault or wrongful restraint) of IPC and sections 25, 27 of the Arms Act at Tongpal police station," Sukma assistant superintendent of police Jitendra Shukla told Catch.
Suspected Naxals had allegedly killed Baghel with sharp weapons on the night of Friday 4 November at his residence in Nama village, under the Kumakoleng gram panchayat in the Tongpal area of the Darbha region, around 450 km away from Raipur.
According to available information, villagers led by the Action Group For National Integrity (AGNI) had protested against the murder on Sunday in Tongpal.
The group, known as a pro-police organisation comprising largely of former Salwa Judum activists, had demanded the immediate arrests of Sundar on the charge of murder, along with several other human rights activists.
One of the protest meetings was addressed by AGNI leaders Farukh Ali and P Vijay. They had accused Sundar of being directly involved in Baghel's killing.
The accused react
Reacting to the murder and the allegations against her, Sundar had posted on a WhatsApp group: "Our fear has come true. We had stated that the police was using innocent, unarmed and helpless villagers to fight the Maoists. Whereas the police is supposed to protect them. IG Kalluri [SRP Kalluri, the Inspector-General of the Bastar Range] is cooking up a big controversy."
Tiwari, one of the co-accused, has alleged vendetta on the part of the police.
"Our research had concluded that the police, the government and the Maoists were responsible for the violence in Bastar. We had only reiterated a well-known fact that the Adivasis are suffering in the battle between the police and the insurgents," he said.
Parate echoed a similar sentiment. "The police is conspiring against everybody who wants peace in Bastar. It is doing so at the behest of the state government. They are wrong if they think we will be terrorised through such tactics," he stated.
Meanwhile, Kalluri claimed that Sundar and the other people were booked based on the complaint of the residents of Nama village. Some of the villagers, including Domu Ram, Ram Kumar, Sannu Ram, Nakul Baghel and Waga had signed the memorandum against Sundar and other activists, which was sent to the President of India.
AGNI convenor Anand Mohan Mishra told Catch that Samnath Baghel was a prominent Adivasi leader of the Darbha region. He had played an important part in forming an anti-Naxal group named 'Tangiya' (axe) in April, and was instrumental in mobilising hundreds of local youth under its banner.
A local police officer claimed Baghel and his associates had also filed a complaint against Sundar and some other persons in the Tongpal police station in May, for allegedly inciting innocent tribals against the police.
Sundar's long tryst with Bastar
Sundar was part of a team that had visited the Bijapur, Sukma, Bastar and Kanker districts between 12-16 May this year. Its purpose was to assess the ground situation in Maoist-hit villages of these areas.
In its report, the team had appealed to the Centre and state governments, as well as the judiciary, to establish peace in Bastar. It also called upon the insurgents to allow developmental activities in the villages and stop killing tribals by branding them as 'informants'.
The team had also urged the Naxals to become a part of the reconciliation process, and not stand in the way of democratic processes.
However, some villagers alleged that Sundar had gone to Nama under the fake name 'Richa Keshav'. They also accused her of holding meetings with Maoist leaders and inciting them to violence.
Sundar had countered these charges by stating that she was visiting these areas for the past two-and-a-half decades. She reminded that she had written her PhD thesis on the villages of Bastar and their problems.
She argued that she had filed several PILs for the rights of the residents of Bastar, and her work made it necessary for her to visit Naxal-affected areas.
She had recently clarified that she had gone to Sukma to know about the well-being of the local villages, and that most people knew her by name in those areas. She claimed to have assumed a fake name as otherwise, the police would have hounded her.
According to Sundar, she wanted to know how MNREGA had improved the lives of the tribals. Sharing her experiences, she had warned against the renewed danger of mass migration from Bastar, due to the re-emergence of movements like Salwa Judum. Sundar had placed equal blame on the police and the Maoists for the prevailing situation in the region.
Sundar recently wrote a book titled The Burning Forest - India's War in Bastar.
A petition filed by her had led to a Supreme Court ban on Salwa Judum.
It was during a hearing on her plea that the apex court had asked the Chhattisgarh government to initiate peace talks with the insurgents, on the lines of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Colombian peace deal.
The government had sought directions from the court to keep people like Sundar away from Bastar. It had alleged that such people wanted to keep the fire of violence alive in Bastar for vested interests. However, the argument was rejected outright by the judges.
The next hearing in the case is scheduled on 11 November.
Edited by Shreyas Sharma
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